With less than 10 days to go before the current Canadian Football League collective bargaining agreement expires on May 18, the CFL and its players remain at odds on reaching a new deal.
There is an increasing sense of urgency, at least from the player’s side, to get a deal done as training camps across the league are set to open a day later.
On Thursday, Canadian Football League Players Association executive director Brian Ramsay made it clear players would be instructed not to report to training camp if a new deal is not reached once the current CBA expires.
But it’s a little more complicated than that. Because of provincial labour laws, players in Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto would have to report to camp. But players in Vancouver, Regina, Winnipeg and Montreal would not be forced to show up to camp.
With the first pre-season game scheduled on Sunday, May 26, the clock is ticking and concern is growing from the players’ side.
How did it get to this point?
The CFLPA says it’s been pressing for a new deal for the past couple of years to avoid this exact situation.
“We’ve been pressing for a number of years to get ahead of this,” Ramsay said. “The issue is we’ve run into nothing but delays from the league’s side.”
Talks between the two sides began on March 11. Negotiations were delayed throughout April, according to the CFLPA.
“The same status quo — ‘Shut up and do your job,’ or ‘Shut up and play football’ — we’re not having it any more,” said Solomon Elimimian, the CFLPA’s second vice president.
Since then, there have been a number of negotiation meetings, including this past week in Toronto, without much resolution.
Both sides tight-lipped
It appears that player salaries and player safety are to the two key sticking points in this negotiation process, although both sides remain tight-lipped about the discussions.
“Our direction is focusing on our goals and what we’re trying to accomplish is a fair and reasonable package for the players,” Ramsay said. “I won’t speculate on their strategy. We’ve tried to be open and transparent.”
The CFL continues to decline comment on the status of negotiations “out of respect for the bargaining process.” However, league commissioner Randy Ambrosie has said on a number of occasions he’s anxious to form a partnership with CFL players
Both sides will be back at the bargaining table in Toronto for three days beginning Sunday. This will be a last-ditch effort to reach a deal before training camps open. Should it not happen by then, the likelihood of players striking is high.
“If there is concern from the fans, that same concern is shared by the players,” Ramsay said.
The CFLPA has instructed players not to report to camp unless they’re in Alberta or Ontario. Those teams are subject to provincial labour laws and would have to show up. However, Ramsay says they would only have to report to camp for four days and could then strike based on the laws.
“They would be following the codes as required and we believe that’s the 23rd of May,” he said. “We’ll protect our players as needed.”
CFL players have gone on strike once, in 1974, but the situation was settled prior to the start of the regular season.
The last CBA negotiations took place just before the start of the 2014 season. It was also tense and nearly led to a strike. Negotiations broke down on a number of occasions and players reported to training camp without a new deal in place.
A five-year deal was eventually reached and the season went on without interruption, but this is not new territory for either side.
What is different is the unity being shown by the CFLPA. Last month over 97 per cent of players gave the union their support in a strike vote. Ramsay says their membership has been unwavering on the issues and the players remain focused going into next week’s negotiations.